A bus, a bike, and a Boston terrier. These are the only major constants in Bob Votruba’s life as he continues a ten-year journey across the country to encourage everyone to reach one goal: To do one million acts of kindness in your lifetime.
Untapped Cities first discovered Bob Votruba in mid-September while he was on his bike handing out flyers to city goers near the American Museum of National History. The flyers explained that Votruba was in New York City for the summer doing a 4,000-mile bicycle ride for those he calls the real heroes: wounded warriors, policemen, and firefighters. His goal was to visit all 212 firehouses, all 76 police precincts, and various first responder agencies and veterans hospitals in all five boroughs of New York City before leaving in October. This is all part of his “One Million Acts of Kindness” which has evolved from a personal goal to a growing movement.
When I finally got to meet Votruba, he was exactly how I imagined the man behind this movement to be. The Cleveland native greeted me with a big smile, introduced me to his canine partner-in-crime, Bogart, and stepped out of his way to open the door for a woman and her child, all within the first five minutes of meeting him. From more flyers in his hand, to his shirt which read “Put an end to Bullying & Adolescent Suicide” (the next issue he wants to address), you can tell from first glance that this man never wastes an opportunity to spread his message.
His most memorable tool, however, was parked on an open corner for passersby to see. Painted blue with different motivational quotes and kindness campaigns covering nearly every inch, is the iconic Kindness Bus. From the word “peace” written in 49 different languages on the door, to encouraging sayings covering the windows, everything that Votruba stands for is colorfully written on the bus’s exterior. Painted on the back window is the reason why the mission exists: “Because of Virginia Tech 4-16-07 End All Forms Of Hatred!!”
After watching news coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting, Votruba spent time in Blacksburg, Virginia, witnessing thousands of people mourning this catastrophe. “I thought, ‘There’s something missing here. There’s some individuals that just aren’t getting the message of some of the core values that I think we should all grow up with’”¦So I set a goal of one million acts of kindness for each and every individual.”
Although a million acts of kindness seems like an overwhelming task, Votruba says that this goal can be reached by combining physical acts of kindness, such as holding a door open for someone, with what he calls “kind acts from the heart,” which is wanting goodness for others. “We seem to have gotten away from that so far in this world,” says Votruba. “So I’m trying to see if many individuals can do this, and I’m sure that’s happening and is going to happen.”
The 57-year-old has traveled all over the country promoting kindness and bringing awareness to issues by meeting personal goals. When I met with him in late September, he had already ridden an extra 400 miles for his 4,000-mile Kindness Bicycle Ride for Heroes and visited every firehouse, police precinct, and veterans hospital.
Each morning, he would get up and ride his bicycle throughout the city donning signs that read “Riding For Wounded Warriors” and “Riding 4,000 Miles for Heroes.”He visited firehouses, precincts, and hospitals throughout the day to talk to the officers, firefighters, or hospital workers and thank them for all that they do. Votruba says that these heroes rarely ever get a thank you, so they have responded to his visits with great appreciation by inviting him to have meals with them and showing him around their headquarters. At a 9/11 memorial, Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano and Chief Edward Kilduff had even come up to him and thanked him for visiting the city’s firehouses after hearing about Votruba’s mission.
As the end to his summer in the city was quickly approaching, I asked how he felt about his experience in New York. “New York City with the international community coming here, so much of my message goes out to the world on a very personal basis”¦These families from all over the world go back and talk about this bus. To me, that’s what [One Million Acts of Kindness] is all about. It’s starting a dialogue between role model and child, and living out that life.”
To learn more about One Million Acts of Kindness, visit www.onemillionactsofkindness.com.
Get in touch with the author @chelspineda.